Meetings improvement gains pace

In March 2007, the Meetings Industry Association (MIA) launched its much anticipated meetings industry dedicated accreditation, AIM (Accredited in Meetings). AIM was developed by the MIA, in association with the Best Practice Forum, as a system for grading venues and meetings suppliers within standardised criteria. The criteria were carefully designed to cover all considerations of meetings procurement, with an especially heavy focus on the value proposition.
    
Back then, on the launch of AIM, MIA chief executive, Jane Evans commented: “For too long many venues have been trying to fit in with accreditations that were originally intended for hotels and the industry has been crying out for an accreditation scheme that took into account its particular dynamics. MIA’s AIM is relevant, not only to hotels, but to conference centres, all other styles of venue and very importantly, meetings industry suppliers.”
    
The MIA’s overall objective was to provide the entire meetings industry with a specific instrument to enable consistent improvement of standards. Three years on, we take a fresh look at the AIM accreditation, review some of its achievements and ask: What next for AIM?

The Procurement Debate
The appeal of AIM is that it offers buyers genuine reassurance of quality standards, eliminating the ongoing debate with procurement departments on whether a venue or meetings supplier has subscribed to best practice, and is offering the highest service standards against a culture of achieving value for money. An AIM accredited venue has achieved 50 grading criteria that include: the location and accessibility of the meeting rooms and facilities provided by the venue, the suitability of the lighting and heating in meeting rooms, the levels of security at the venue, how often the rooms are cleaned and decorated, whether the space and furniture are adequate and suitable, the provision of in-room services such as power sockets, what is supplied at no extra charge and how transparent the published prices are. The meetings buyers can be sure that these grading criteria have already been checked on their behalf. To see a full list of AIM criteria visit www.aimaccredited.co.uk
    
AIM accredited venues and suppliers must also comply with 10 legal acts, relevant to the services they are supplying, which include:

  • Health & Safety at Work and Fire Safety
  • Disability Discrimination
  • Employers Liability
  • Data Protection
  • Sale & Supply of Goods
  • Trade Descriptions 
  • Consumer Protection
  • Weights & Measures
  • Race Relations, Sex Discrimination, Disability Discrimination and Age Discrimination.
  • Licensing Laws

Evans remarks: “Because of AIM, meetings buyers have a choice. They can take a risk and choose a venue or supplier that has made no commitment to delivering against stringent Best Practice standards, or they can choose one of the many venues and suppliers that have achieved AIM and thereby guarantee that they can deliver fantastic service levels. By insisting on AIM, buyers will reward those that have committed to ongoing improvement, encouraging more to do so.”
    
There are currently 355 MIA members, all of these have achieved AIM at one of its levels, either Entry, Silver or Gold. MIA members are split between venues and meetings suppliers, 300 are venues and 76 suppliers and the association also has 196 registered buyer members. Their membership is free of charge and they receive similar benefits to venue and supplier members such as free attendance to networking events and low rates on MIA conventions.

AIM Higher

There are three levels of AIM achievement, the standard Entry level, which is a condition of MIA membership, and Silver and Gold levels, which are known as AIM Higher and demonstrate compliance with a more stringent set of criteria. Venues wishing to ‘AIM Higher’ complete a self-assessment form that consists of ten sections each with five questions.
    
The process of achieving AIM Higher requires a venue or supplier to produce a portfolio of evidence in support of their application. Following this, an external assessment takes place at the venue by an independent examiner, who determines whether AIM Silver or AIM Gold should be awarded. Once achieved, AIM Silver and Gold are renewable every three years. To date, seven members have achieved the accreditation at the much coveted Gold level and four at Silver.
    
For AIM to be a success, the MIA recognised that is would need support from other major players in the industry. To achieve this it made the accreditation accessible to all within the meetings industry. Evans commented: “We developed AIM as a tool for the entire industry to use, we knew from the start that would be the only way it would achieve its objectives, so once it was fully established amongst our members, we opened it up to the entire meetings industry.”
    
Widespread endorsement ensued. Endorsements came at first from VisitBritian (in England), followed by special AIM-based programmes sponsored by the North West Development Agency, Conference Leeds and Cumbria Tourism. A special agreement with MIA’s fellow trade association, MPI (Meetings Professionals International) gained support from the association and its members and in November 2009 and ABPCO (Association of British Professional Conference Organisers) gave its support for the association in January 2010.

Visit Wales Recognises Benefits
The decision for Visit Wales to endorse AIM was taken after it was decided in 2008 that the Welsh meetings grading scheme, Business Class, needed to be reviewed. As part of the review, AIM was explored as an alternative and was found to include most of the criteria required. After consideration, Visit Wales decided to follow VisitBritain’s lead and endorse AIM rather than modify the existing accreditation.
    
Visit Wales recognised the benefits offered to a venue or meetings supplier by adoption of AIM and has recommended that all Welsh meetings venues should seek to become accredited under the scheme.

The future of AIM
As seen in the examples of Conference Leeds, Cumbria Tourism and now Visit Wales, regional development agencies are using AIM in their own way to encourage venues in their regions to achieve AIM and therefore drive up the standards and reputation of the entire area as a meetings and events destination. And this is a precursor to the future development of AIM, with its widespread adoption being driven by the regions and destinations.
    
“Encouragement and support for venues to achieve AIM from their regional conference or tourism bureau is an efficient way of building the AIM network. The result will be a far more effective way of providing choice to the event organiser, meaning that within a region they can choose to schedule their conference, meeting or event activity around venues, activities and suppliers that have all achieved the AIM accreditation,” comments Evans. “And of course, it is an excellent marketing tool for the region, providing competitive advantage and raising profile.
    
“We’re flexible in our approach to the regions. Each has different characteristics, with varying requirements to satisfy, so we work with them to develop their AIM programme to ensure it works for them.”

Manchester set to join
The next destination to endorse AIM with a programme of mass venue achievement of the accreditation is Manchester. Visit Manchester, is sponsoring 60 of Manchester’s leading meetings venues to achieve AIM and join the MIA. It’s a strategy designed to drive the improvement of meetings service standards in Manchester and attract more business tourism to the city.
    
Jane Evans comments: “Visit Manchester’s support for AIM is a credit to the city’s proactive approach. As 2010 unfolds, we expect to see many more destinations use AIM as a comprehensive tool to raise standards and attract business.”

AIM Vision
The MIA’s vision for AIM is for it to play a significant role in ensuring the meetings industry is ready, willing and able to deliver the high level of quality standards, excellent, varied and flexible facilities and demonstrable value for money that meetings organisers are now demanding. But Evans also believes meetings and events buyers have a role to play, she feel they can help ensure the industry delivers what they require: “Event organisers and buyers can send a message to the industry by voting with their budgets, they have the power to drive industry improving change by only using AIM accredited venues. Together we can encourage those that have not yet committed to continuous improvement and best practice to do so, strengthening this vital UK industry.”

Finding an AIM Venue
It’s easy to find an AIM accredited venue, search on the MIA’s own websites, www.mia-uk.org and www.aimaccredited.com , or use either one of two of the industry’s leading online search portals www.venuedirectory.com and www.latemeetings.com that feature AIM in their search results.